Review: ‘A Chorus Line’ sizzles in O.C.
3-D Theatricals’ production of “A Chorus Line” celebrates the unsung heroes of the ensemble by breathing new life into a singular sensation that transcends time.
The show is playing through Sunday at Fullerton’s Plummer Auditorium.
“A Chorus Line” was an instant success when it first opened on Broadway in 1975. The production won nine Tony Awards, including “Best Musical,” the Pulitzer Prize for drama, and is credited as the longest running American-produced Broadway musical.
The show is about 17 dancers who audition for a Broadway chorus line and the stories that brought them there. All the artists are desperate for work and must dance for their lives to land a spot on the line.
Unfortunately, the financial realities of the entertainment industry have not changed much since 1975.
Today, the trials of these fictitious characters plague many performers striving to maintain a career in the unstable entertainment business. “A Chorus Line” is a reality of the present. So, there is no better time to once again bring back the line and reach out to theatergoers.
Michael Bennett, who originally conceived, directed and choreographed the show, based it on true stories from Broadway dancers taped in two all-night sessions.
The final product featured classic songs by composer Marvin Hamlisch, including “One,” “Dance: Ten, Looks: Three,” “At the Ballet,” and the musical theater anthem “What I Did For Love.”
3-D’s production was performed without an intermission, as it was originally presented. But the time flew from the high-energy opening combination until the final elimination.
For many theater enthusiasts in the audience during the May 17 performance, Bennett’s enduring choreography was immediately recognizable and gave off a nostalgic vibe. So, when the dancers burst into the original opening combination (“I Hope I Get It”), theatergoers unleashed a thunderous applause.
Restaged choreography by Linda Love-Simmons intricately interpreted Bennett’s choreography for the Plummer stage. The mirrors lining the stage’s back wall put audience members in the performers’ shoes as if they were onstage dancing with them.
Jared Sayeg’s minimalist adaptation of Tharon Musser’s lighting conveyed the blur of an audition experience.
More importantly, the opening number didn’t look like rehearsed choreography, but depicted a real audition, imperfections and all. Classic audition scenarios were depicted: One character forgot a number, while another flailed his arms and glued his eyes to the ground.
Along the way, the assistant choreographer Larry (an agile Chester Lockheart) helped the stragglers, who attempted to evade the director’s intimidating criticisms.
After the first cut, director Zack (an intense Michael Paternostro) proceeded to interrogate each hopeful. He encouraged them to reveal their dreams, fears and events that have shaped their lives and their decisions to become dancers.
Throughout the interrogation, the audience was introduced to diverse spectrum of personalities: Mark, the overenthusiastic newbie; Judy, the fiery star-to-be; Val, the plastic surgery queen; Kristine, who’s scatter-brained and tone deaf; Al, her husband who finishes her phrases in tune; Connie, the dancer that struggles with height; Bebe, who’s down on her looks; and then there is Maggie and Bobby, who used ballet to escape an unhappy family life.
In effect, each individual comes out of the ensemble and into the spotlight to tell a story of his or her own. And the original line rehearsal costumes adapted and provided by Jose M. Rivera distinguish these identities.
But audiences don’t have to be performers to relate. James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante’s book recounts general life issues.
While the other dancers share memories of adolescence (“Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love”), Greg speaks about his discovery of his homosexuality. Don remembers his first job at a nightclub and Richie (an electric Anthony Chatmon III) remembers how he nearly became a kindergarten teacher.
Although there was little disparity in performance among the strong cast of characters, some individuals were more memorable than others.
Venny Carranza’s intoxicating presence commanded the stage as Mike — also known as “twinkle toes.” His boyish recollection of watching his sister’s dance class as a preschooler (“I Can Do That”) showcased a versatile skill set.
However, John Feinstein’s sound design was unbalanced and the performers, including Carranza, were often overpowered by the booming orchestra. Consequently, dialogue and solos were lost.
Tomasina Abate is a hoot and nailed the essence of the femme fatal Sheila — a jaded dancer who cringes at the thought of turning 30. Abate showed off her rich vocal chops and refined control in “At the Ballet.” She was supported by a solid trio under the musical direction of Judy Lamoureaux, whose vocal tones blended harmoniously.
Alexis A. Carra and Paternostro are a dynamic pair as former lovers Cassie and Zack. The two share some poignant moments when Cassie — a veteran dancer out of work — begs for a job in the chorus. In the line she can still express her passion for dance.
During “The Music and The Mirror” Carra unleashed passionate movement bursting with genuine emotion. The restaging was breathtaking and mirrors provided a multidimensional visual.
Kevin Panmeechao is endearing as the vulnerable Paul. Time really flies during his gut-wrenching monologue recounting family deaths, sexual abuse and coming to terms with his manhood and homosexuality.
Robin De Lano’s storytelling ability and commanding presence made her a class-act as Diana. In “Nothing” and “What I Did For Love” her voice is pure, effortless and supported by a first-rate orchestra. But what is most striking about De Leno is her ability to make Diana a real person.
“A Chorus Line” is an ode to all who have put their dreams on the line for a chance to dance.
“The show is a window inside our crazy business,” director T.J. Dawson said before curtain on May 17.
And beyond the glitz and glamour there has never been a more accurate representation of the entertainment business then and now.
For ticket information and showtimes for “A Chorus Line,” visit https://www.3dtshows.com/3-dtheatricals.html.